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Direct Democracy

Diana Wallis is actively involved in the promotion of direct democracy in the UK and Europe through her work in the European Parliament and through her board membership of the of the Initiatives and Referendums Institute (IRI Europe).

16 November 2007

With the Lisbon Treaty incorporating the same mechanism for a citizens' initiative as the former Article I-47(4) of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, time is ripe to start considering how such a mechanism could be implemented. The Treaty only lays down certain general principles, leaving the details for an implementing regulation.

21 August 2007 Publication by Unlock Democracy

Click here to read "Taking the Initiative", an Unlock Democracy pamphlet co-authored by Diana

Setting the scene - involving citizens

Speaking on Tuesday 11 January 2005 in Strasbourg in the context of the debate on the European Constitution, Diana Wallis said:

"I would like to ask for more noise and excitement over the small clause, under 'participatory democracy', that deals with the citizens' right of initiative. This, above all, makes a reality of bringing Europe closer to its citizens. It builds on the right to petition, but much more than that it is a positive right that allows our citizens to begin to set the agenda. In my own country, in comparison, citizens have no right of initiative, petitions languish on shelves, legislative initiatives rely on parliamentarians winning a ballot - it is a sort of game of chance - and even then the initiative will probably be talked out by colleagues, with the citizens having no real place. I am very proud that this nascent EU right offers much more: a real opportunity for our citizens to participate in and to move Europe. Let us therefore have a loud fanfare for this step towards direct democracy, European-style."

Bringing direct democracy to the EU


Diana hosting a conference on Citizens' Initiatives in the European Parliament with guest speakers Swiss ambassador Marfurt, Finnish MP Heidi Hautala and German MEP Jo Leinen.

Until now, the citizen's role at the European level has been limited to being a spectator (passively looking on at what the governments delivered), a consultative body (subject to a proposal by the Commission), or - at best - a final decision-maker at the end of long political processes (as in the recent constitutional referendums). Now, the prospect of introducing a European Citizens' Initiative at the European level opens up a new window of democratic opportunity beyond national borders, with the potential to become an issue-centred and genuinely European tool of participation. (Extract from IRI Reader 2006, co-edited by Diana Wallis). At the centre of this right of initiative is a very simple idea: one million EU citizens can call on the Commission to propose a change in European law.

In 2005, the European Parliament, pending the uncertain outcome of the constitutional crisis, called for the citizen's right of initiative to be implemented through an interinstitutional agreement. This call has yet to be heeded, although a coalition of NGOs is pushing for this. Their strategy is simple: gather a million signatures to ask for the right itself to be introduced, ie playing by the rules whilst at the same time asking for the rules to be laid down. The signature collecting starts this October. See: http://www.citizens-initiative.eu/

However, European citizens have not waited for the proper framework to be in place before completing the very first initiative at EU: the initiative for the Parliament to be permanently seated in Brussels and not Strasbourg. Although the campaign has reached the million in a record time and has been officially handed over to the Commission, you can still sign! www.oneseat.eu


The oneseat.eu initiative reached the million on 18 September 2006.

In March 2006, Diana Wallis hosted a Conference on 'The New Citizens' Initiatives for Europe' in the European Parliament. Ahead of the Conference, she said: "The draft Treaty establishing a European Constitution managed to incorporate the basics of modern representative democracy, based on direct and indirect instruments of decision-making. During this conference, experts will discuss the main findings of a one-year consultation process facilitated by the Institute for Referendums and Initiatives-Europe on the opportunities for bringing EU citizens into EU policy-making, rather than being limited to the role of spectator. A variety of citizen referendums and initiatives will be discussed. Can bringing direct democracy into the European Union fill the gap between Europe and its citizens?". The conference was very well attended by representatives of the European Commission, by present and former members of the European Parliament and by civil society.

In September 2006, Diana Wallis launched two publications on direct democracy: the 2007 edition of the comprehensive Guidebook to Direct Democracy and Initiative for Europe a compendium of up-to-date articles and sources on citizens' initiatives in the EU and in Member States. You can find references to these two publications, and find out which seven citizens' initiatives have already been launched this year at EU level, by following this links:

Guidebook 2007

Handbook 2007

Bringing direct democracy back home

facey event

Diana speaks at a fringe event on direct democracy at the Lib Dem conference in Brighton, September 2006. Other panelists are from right to left : David Laws MP, Baroness Scott, and Geoff Payne.

Diana Wallis is also active in promoting direct democracy back in the UK. In 2003, she hosted a conference in York under the title "The Referendum Challenge". She criticised repeated failures to hold referendums in the UK on the Constitutional Treaty but also on the adoption of the Euro, on a change in the voting system and on the establishment of an elected regional assembly here in Yorkshire and the Humber. One year on from the French referendum on the Constitution, she said:

"Successive UK governments perceive referendums as something to be allowed to the people by government, dropped as crumbs from the top table, which can be equally withdrawn without any explanation. It is little wonder when politicians talk about listening to the people the public become even more cynical. I still believe that the British people have a right to vote on all of the matters thus far denied us. It is possible that in some of them, perhaps all of them, the vote might not go the way that I want, but, hey, that's democracy. It would certainly engage both the electorate and politicians in a vote on something outside of party elections."

If you are interested in the issue of direct democracy, and would like to know more, why not try out the links below. Make sure to check out the new and exciting "Our Say" campaign which has been launched in September 2006.


Diana with Ms. Saira Khan (chair of the "Our Say" campaign) in windy Brighton, before a fringe event on referendums at Lib Dem Conference 2006

What else has Diana said on this issue?

Article 1

Article 2

Article 3


Check out the exciting campaign launched in the UK by Ms. Saira Khan following the Power Inquiry:

Our Say website

Power Inquiry website

Diana Wallis supports the introduction of the Citizens' Initiative at the European level. Find out more about the campaign which aims to gather one million signatures to ask for the introduction of such a right:

Citizens' Initiative for the Initiative

IRI Europe Homepage

One Million signature campaign for the European Parliament to have a single seat